After 2020 I think most of us are ready to wipe the slate clean and start again. And there is now some tangible hope for a better year. The vaccine is getting started, we are moving in the right direction. So this post is about starting as we mean to go on. New Years Resolutions. And how we can use them to build our resilience and thrive, not just achieve a goal or be better, fitter, happier or whatever else.
I kind of love New Years Resolutions. I see them as a time we can look back and reflect and look forward and reimagine. To think about our hopes and dreams, who we are and how our behaviour fits with our values. To consider if our lives are well balanced or if there is something missing. Mental health can and should be a big part of this. Looking after our mental health ties in directly with looking after our physical health, making sure our lives are well balanced and that what we do fits with our values. New Years Resolutions can be a powerful tool. But there are pitfalls. It’s easy for low self-worth to creep in. It’s easy to end up with resolutions that are unachievable. It’s easy for guilt and shame to come up when we get to February and find we’ve not managed to do what we set out to do. I want to show you how to avoid these pitfalls, and to use this tradition in a way that will work for you. So whatever you resolve, let’s make 2021 a good one. Starting now. Let’s look ahead, with hope and imagination!
You might have a good idea of what you’d like to work on this year. A very common resolution after a foodie Christmas is to work on diet or exercise. And if that’s you, then go for it! If not, then keep reading and get inspired. The themes below might give you some ideas. And the bonus is that any of these themes will be great for your mental health. The mind and body are closely linked, so we start with the basics: sleep, nutrition and movement. If you want to improve your mental health then start here!
Sleep is so important, for both physical and mental health, staying calm and alert and functioning well day to day. We live in a culture that can place more value on getting everything done than getting a good nights sleep. Add in a regular bedtime and keep a consistent routine before bed. If you struggle with getting to sleep consider reducing screen-time or trying things to improve your sleep hygiene. Here are some ideas from GetSelfHelp to get you started
The food we eat obviously has a direct impact on our physical health, but it can also impact our mental health. Eating well can help us stay alert and have less highs and lows in mood and energy over the course of a day. When we are considering our nutrition it can also be a part of self-care and can therefore make us feel better about ourselves and the choices we are making. If you want to improve your nutrition, go back to basics. Even making one small change daily can have a big impact. Here are the current recommendations for healthy eating.
There is a difference between eating well and diets. We all have different physical profiles so do consult your doctor if you are planning to follow a diet that goes beyond healthy eating.
Another big foundational theme for both physical and mental health. Consider how much movement you do over the course of a day or a week. What kind of exercise do you enjoy? What are your fitness goals? Do you do high impact and low impact exercise? Outdoors or indoors? What effect does it have on your mood? Again, start small. If you do nothing, start from there. Something is better than nothing.
Consider resolutions based on values. Kindness, generosity, loyalty, honesty, commitment, compassion, empathy, joy, gratitude. And many more! This post might be useful reading. By linking your resolutions to qualities that you value, you are proactively making your daily life more meaningful. Great for mental health!
Humans are made for community. Consider resolutions around maintaining and developing your relationships this year. You might want to write letters to old friends, or carve out time for dates nights with your spouse. You might want to increase playtime with your kids or resolve to bring more honesty into conversations.
Less not more
Sometimes resolutions can feel stressful because it feels like ‘one more thing’ to add to an already full to do list. If your life feels full, then consider resolutions that reduce the clutter. Think about which areas of your life cause you stress and what kind of change would reduce this. Do you need to actively ‘find’ time for quieter moments to recharge? Do you need to put in some boundaries at work or home so that you can manage your demands easier? Are there activities or commitments that you need to drop?
Consider taking up a new skill or returning to a hobby that enables you to be creative. This can be a way to express yourself, and can also be an activity that makes you feel good, in its own right. What have you always wanted to try? Maybe now is the time to sign up for these singing lessons!
Finally, consider something that will challenge yourself. This might be a stand-alone event or a goal. It might be something that others find easy. It could be something completely random that’s sat at the back of your mind for a while. You might want to run a marathon, or walk a 5k. You might want to talk in front of a large group, or tackle your anxiety so that you can go to the shops on your own. If you’re struggling with a particular issue, be brave, seek help. Take the challenge.
So you’ve hopefully got some ideas now, if you didn’t already. Amazing! But don’t stop just yet. For these amazing resolutions to really benefit our mental health, we need to avoid falling into pitfalls that lead to despair, guilt or shame.
There is no point in setting resolutions that are unrealistic. Here is an example. I’d love to run the Bluenose marathon, but I know that with a toddler to care for this is not the year for me to do that. I’m not found any running currently do it’s really not realistic! It’s also not helpful to have a big list of resolutions. This is likely to be unachievable. Limit yourself to a small number that you can manage. SMART goals is a system for goal-setting that can be helpful when you’re trying to hone your resolutions. It’s used a lot in business, but also in therapy. Here’s a helpful sheet for more information.
We all need praise. As adults we’re perhaps a bit more subtle about it, but it can still feel good to have a pat on the back. Praise is something you can use yourself, to help with your own motivation. Praise yourself when you manage something. Use rewards. If you’ve got a resolution to find a new job then reward yourself with a hot drink after re-writing your resume. If your resolution is around healthy eating then share with a friend and praise each other for your achievements.
Kindness is key. As I said, I love resolutions. I do them every year. But I don’t think that I have ever got to the end of December, still doing the daily habits I started on January 1st. So does this mean I’ve failed? Well, kind of, but also no. Really, it’s all about how you look at it. Choose to see resolutions as a reset, not an expectation. If things change and your resolutions fade away or get dropped, be kind to yourself. Life can be unpredictable (e.g. ummm… 2020?). Things change. Priorities change. Choose to see it as life, not failure. There is always tomorrow.
I’ve decided this year that my resolutions will reset every month. I’m anticipating that whatever I plan to do will likely fall flat at some point during each month. So I’ll resolve to start again. And again. And again! If we only had one change to get things wrong in life then we’d all be in trouble. Thankfully, we can always start again.
I hope this post has been helpful, as you start to think about the New Year. Don’t take any of it too seriously. If nothing else, New Years Resolutions should be fun. So think outside your social bubbled box. Take off the metaphorical mask. Re-imagine. And feel free to share your plans! If your resolution involves addressing your mental health directly and you want support with this then we can help. Visit our website more more information and to book a free initial consult.